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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by multi-genre novelist and indie publisher Devon Flaherty @devtflaherty
Soundtrack by Barenaked Ladies, Alanis Morissette, Gungor, Passion, Tom Waits, She & Him, The Sing Team, Adele, Waterdeep, Glen Hansard, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Brothers and Sisters, The City Harmonic, Trouvere, Lowland Hum, Over The Rhine, Putumayo, Belinda Carlisle
I have to admit, ever since I started staying at home with babies/small children, my interaction with music has been different. Not only do I have to put up with terrible kid music (with the exception of BNL’s Snacktime) and avoid music I formerly loved with questionable lyrics or themes, but I also have the occupational challenge of keeping my ears open, all the time, listening for a breach of boundary, a breaking glass, a sibling fight. Most of the writing of my recently published book, Benevolent, has taken place in this music vacuum—stealing moments of Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill while driving alone to a friend’s home.
But this has been a really big month for me. On section two of my next novel, The Family Elephant’s Jewels, my husband has graduated nursing school, my son has been registered for kindergarten, and mommy has been given — by the appreciative husband — an iPod Nano! Fifteen years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead without my Discman, but an iPod seemed a little extraneous with my loveable cling-ons. And now? It’s truly wonderful.
Last night, while listening to Gungor’s Dry Bones and folding clothes (and doing air pumps and some orchestra conducting), I saw the vision for my much-needed book trailer. The music just flowed through me. And I don’t know about you, but when I get really carried away with a song, visions break out like fireworks on my inner retina, making music videos of my creativity, my thought-life. Which is why, for me, music is such an integral part of the writing process.
I have been known to say, in recent interviews, that my ideas often come from moments in life when something small and extraordinary jumps out at me. I can’t begin to count, even during my music-starved twenties, the times that that small and extraordinary moment was fueled by music. My future fantasy trilogy Spin was almost completely born out of the song White Flag by Passion (which is kid-friendly). I have a whole story built around Tom Waits’s A Little Drop of Poison (which happens to be on the Shrek soundtrack).
Oh for Bose
So now that I am planning long hours lost behind noise-cancelling headphones — and the eventual transfer to a Bose stereo that I can blast when I am the only one home ‘working’ — I plan on creating the townscapes of The Family Elephant’s Jewels with the juice-flowing inspiration of all my latest (and greatest) favorite bands: She & Him, Sing Team, Adele, Waterdeep, Glen Hansard, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Brothers and Sisters, The City Harmonic, Trouvere, Lowland Hum, and many others, many as yet undiscovered by me.
The truth is, that even without music playing all the time (which it had for the first twenty-five years of my life), music was still inspiring me as I wrote Benevolent. It’s evident when I reach out and bring in a very specific piece of music, even in the prose. Gaby is listening to Over the Rhine’s Good Dog, Bad Dog as she rumbles bus-bound through Jerusalem, thinking about her romantic attachments. Putumayo’s Gypsy Groove lilts on the air during a disastrous scene near the end of the book (no spoilers!), but I had to change the title (Mali to Memphis) due to time differences. Heck, Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth was the song that got me in the whole 80s and 90s mood to begin with. And let’s not forget the one I made up (because that’s how story and legend often convey):
And The Queen and her lover
ran for cover
Holding each other tight.
While the tall story man
and his evil war band
Chased down the beautiful knight.
Where have all the heroes gone?
I want a stately red-headed queen
to make love to angels
and wield a sure sword
And Jaden to save the day,
Oh-oh Jaden to save the day.
I like to bring my readers all the way into a story, and that means engaging all the senses, if possible. They are seeing a dingy 1980s dining room, eating chicken, smelling old carpet, feeling a chink in porcelain under their fingertip and the roughness of a tuxedo jacket against their arm, listening to—what? Besides Nadine yammering on? Besides the humming of the fridge and the clink of silverware? In Gaby’s opening scene, I have music everywhere: being rudely interrupted, then bursting out again, ‘in the foreground and background and off the walls,’ Stellar crooning obnoxiously to Bette Midler.
And I like to be immersed, myself, into life. I like to see, feel, smell, taste, and hear when I walk through the woods, when I take my husband on a date, when I read a book, and definitely, most definitely, when I write it.
Devon Flaherty is a writer in Durham, North Carolina. Originally from metropolitan Detroit, she is a mother, a wife, a hobby yogi, photographer, painter, and foodie. She has been writing seriously since her very earliest brushes with literature, and has published articles, poems, and photography in literary journals and magazines. She received a bachelors in philosophy and was an assistant editor, freelancer, and blogger, until she founded a publishing company, Owl and Zebra Press, and launched her novelist career with Benevolent. Follow her on Twitter @devtflaherty, at her blog The Starving Artist, or by signing up for her E-Newsletter. You can buy Benevolent here (or plenty of other places).
GIVEAWAY Devon is giving away a signed copy of Benevolent and also a copy of She & Him’s new CD, which Devon says is the kind of music her protagonists would be listening to today. You can enter both these giveaways via the links on Rafflecopter. For the signed copy of Benevolent go here, and for the She & Him CD go here. (And she’d probably appreciate it all the more if you also share the post!)
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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by award-winning mystery and thriller novelist (and musician) Timothy Hallinan @TimHallinan
I could not write without music.
With more than 7,000 tracks on my hard drive and the best pair of earbuds money can buy, I can create a distraction-free workspace anywhere in the world. That’s necessary because I like to write in public, usually in coffee-shops, where there’s already caffeine in the air and I can look up and steal a face whenever I need one.
I work to playlists with different qualities, most of them 400-1,000 songs long. (My current all-purpose playlist has 1,356 songs on it, heavy on Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Jon Fratelli, Emmylou Harris, Mindy Smith, Lindi Ortega, Over the Rhine, etc.) Generally, music seals me off from distraction, provides a source of energy, and, depending on what I’m writing and the playlist I’ve chosen, an actual entry point to certain emotions and even imagery.
I virtually never write without those earphones plugged in. (I’m listening to Jack’s Mannequin right now.) About half the time I work to the all-purpose playlist, which changes all the time as I add new stuff and yank the old. But occasionally a piece of music will emerge and take over the writing of a book.
In my fourth Poke Rafferty novel, The Queen of Patpong, a young woman has leapt from a boat into the dark Andaman Sea near three large rocks called The Sisters. It’s the middle of the night, rain is pouring down, and the water bristles with sea-wasps, a particularly lethal jellyfish. The man in the boat has brought her there specifically to kill her. This is the turning point of the book, and it became the longest action scene I’ve ever written. A few pages in, Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand kicked in, and I immediately put it on a loop. I wrote to it for several days. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, I wrote:
the chapter when Rose is in the water was written mostly to Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, a piece of music that’s got dark water running all the way through it.
I mention the music I use most at the close of practically every book, and many, many people have emailed me to suggest new artistes. I get a lot of good music that way.
The forthcoming Rafferty book, For The Dead, is largely about a 13-year-old girl having her carefully constructed and entirely fictional identity ripped from her, revealing her to the kids in her exclusive school as a former street child who’s befriended them under false pretences. Much of it was written to Tegan and Sara, who create great, hooky, irresistible rock about girls and young women. They were the primary soundtrack for Miaow’s sections of the story.
But early in the writing process, I began to listen to Fun., and their music crystallized certain aspects of Miaow’s story. At the beginning of the book a phrase from a Fun. song called Benson Hedges, We all float until we sink, keeps running through her mind, and that also song provided the titles of the first two sections of the book: We All Float . . . and . . . Until We Sink. The third section is Drowning Girls, which is a lyric I actually misheard, but there was no way to drop it because it worked so well, and the fourth section is Aim and Ignite, which is the title of a Fun. album.
Finally, in the new Junior Bender book (due out July 2), The Fame Thief, Junior is hired to find out who destroyed the career (and the life) of a young actress in 1950. The central section of the book departs from Junior’s first-person to take us back to the 40s and the early 50s, and for this section I listened to pop music from the day, which had a real impact on both the dialogue and the visual landscape.
If anyone who reads this has some recommendations for me, please comment below or email me at email@example.com And thanks in advance.
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- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2020. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
Find something unforgettable
- From literary journal to 10 books a year – interview with Jessica Bell @msbessiebell of Vine Leaves Press @VineLeavesPress
- What movies get wrong – and right – about authors. And Elizabeth Taylor: Ep47 FREE podcast for writers
- The panic document – when you fear your book has a major flaw, how to diagnose what’s really wrong
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'